Featured Post: Happy 45th Birthday Mr Men and Little Miss! News of a Special Exhibition

Mr Happy

The 1971 line up

One of the most enduring memories of my childhood was dressing up as Mr Strong. It was for one of our school fetes where each year (this was the 1980’s) we dressed up and paraded around the school field for all the parents to see. I used to love the Mr Men books, we had a few, but not all of them. I’d get them from the library whenever I was given the chance.

The other thing I really remember vividly was playing live action Mr Men and Little Miss in the playground. Each person would be given a character to match their personality.When I was little there weren’t very many Little Miss books to choose from, in fact I can only remember Little Miss Bossy. It was inevitable, given the sort of child that I was that I would end up being Little Miss Bossy, although sometimes I was Mr Messy. They both suited my childhood. Being born in the 1970’s by the time I went to primary school it was all about the beginnings of girl power with Mrs Thatcher in charge and everyone loved America.

Mr Happy

Mr Happy

Thats why the Mr Men books were so good, they were really absolutely British. The pictures were fantastic, each drawn with felt tip pen. It made them more accessible and I’d spend many a happy hour trying to think up my own characters and create my own little books.

The Mr Men and Little Miss books were something which I was desperate to share with the kids, I mean, what a brilliant excuse to have to read them all again! Although we have bought an entire new set for the children both myself and my husband find that we still have lots of our vintage original versions. Just reading them can bring back really vivid memories and we drive the children mad by reminiscing with them about various times in our childhood when reading them! I’m also keen on getting them to create their own little Mr Men character books…

Of course, with the benefit of being in my forties and a mother to four children I now know why there were so many Mr Strong’s in the school fete. It must be one of the easiest book related fancy dress costumes out there. In fact I even recreated this costume for my own child recently.

As each year passes there are of course, even more brilliant Mr Men books to read and I often review them here on this blog. In fact (guilt) I have a little stack by my computer here which I must get around to reviewing!

mr strong kids costume

My daughter as Mr Strong

Isn’t it fantastic to hear that to celebrate 45 years of the brand (shocking as that means its only a few years older than me) there is going to be a pop-up exhibition in London’s South Bank. Even better that it has been designed specifically with kids in mind, with exhibits displayed at a child’s scale throughout.

The exhibition will feature hundreds of pieces of memorabilia from the past 45 years, celebrating the nation’s favourite Mr Men and Little Miss charactersFans will be able to add their own memorabilia to the exhibition via the Mr Men Little Miss virtual archive, by simply uploading an image of their favourite item on their phone or laptop. Consumer items uploaded to the virtual archive will be on display on rolling screens at the exhibition, alongside physical items, creating an ever-changing exhibition of the nation’s most-loved Mr Men and Little Miss memorabilia. The first 45 people to upload an item to the virtual archive will receive a limited edition print signed by Adam Hargreaves.

As a professional museum curator and a Mr Men fan I cant believe my luck! It couldn’t get much better really; a child friendly exhibition during the school holidays featuring our favourite book characters.

You’ll be able to  explore the collection on loan from Mr Men Little Miss super fan Michelle Harrop. Fans can also add their own pieces to the exhibition via the virtual archive, take time out in the Mr Men Little Miss story time library area, and take snaps of themselves inside a specially-created ‘Happyland’ backdrop alongside their favourite Mr Men & Little Miss characters. The exhibition will also include a personalisation stand for visitors to take home their very own personalised print of a Mr Men or Little Miss character as a memento.

The Mr Men Little Miss Mini Museum will be open between Thursday 25th August and Monday 29th August 2016. The exhibition takes place at Gallery@OXO, situated on the ground floor of the OXO Tower on London’s South Bank.

 Fans can upload their memorabilia to the Mr Men Little Miss archive at www.mrmen.com/archive

Follow the characters on social media for the latest news and competitions:

Twitter – @MrMenOfficial

Instagram – @MrMenOfficial

Facebook – www.facebook.com/mrmenlittlemiss

Role Models for Young Girls

Last weekend I spent an inspirational day back at The Natural History Museum courtesy of Trowelblazers. The day was organised with the aim of trying to get some more female scientists essentially archaeologists and palaeontologists onto Wikipedia. I learnt loads about editing Wikipedia and I’m keen to help populate the on line encyclopedia. Something which anyone can do and everyone should have a go at because we all have something to offer!

We were also treated to the most amazing display of fossils collected by some remarkable women. Essentially those whose biographies on Wikipedia we were trying to improve. Women such as Mary Anning, Dorothea Bate and Dorothy Garrod were represented. Bringing together letters, photographs and fossils is a fabulous way of bringing to life the contributions these women made and tells you a little bit about their lives instantly.

The reason why I am writing here about the day is because I read endless blog posts and tweets about how there are very few good female role models out there. I honestly don’t think this is the case at all. I’ll admit that little girls are bombarded with Disney Princess and Dora, but in a sense that is only if you let them. My little girl has never been that fascinated and has certainly never viewed either as a role model. This is probably because she has brothers and so gender actually isn’t an important thing in our household. It’s all about survival of the fittest in our house, but also about the value of peoples contribution.

However, I will say that one of the things I have probably unconsciously done is to read to them stories of pioneering women. Where possible I’ve shown them photographs and we have gone on hunts around museums to find artefacts related to these women.

I guess it started when I found a few children’s books about Mary Anning whilst visiting the Philpot Museum. Since we love fossil hunting at Lyme Regis this was an obvious person to begin with and from there my children’s interest has developed.

When you start looking there are hundreds of women out there who have done some really amazing things and lead the most wonderful lives. I’ve recently introduced my children to my research for the museum I used to work at on women who excavated in the 1930’s. Some of these ladies were remarkable and went on to have very influential careers in middle Eastern Archaeology. You cant fail to be interested in pictures from far off exotic places in far off times which is precisely what you can show the children. I’ve used these images as starting points for all sorts of activities from story-writing and telling through to art.

So, if you are looking for some new role models for girls then I suggest that all you need to do is check out the amazing Trowelblazers blog here. If any of our daughters can do half of what some of these women did they will have very interesting lives indeed.

A Weekend in Cambridge With Travelodge

The kids making themselves at home

Last weekend we decided to take up an offer to go and stay in the brand new Cambridge Travelodge on Newmarket Road. Cambridge is one of our all time favourite cities to go and visit and we thought this might be good fun. And it was. We visited the Sedgewick Museum and marvelled at the dinosaurs and fossils. We then took the kids to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where I used to work and where the staff commented on how amazing it was that the children were making notes and drawing things *proud mummy* and finally we went to the Fitzwilliam Museum and looked at some paintings and armour.

Double Bed

Cambridge is a wonderful place to take the children and it also has a lot of fab bookshops and places to eat so you cant really go wrong. Travelodge are known for being exceptionally reasonably priced and since they had their makeover they seem to have moved into the modern age. The hotel room was smart, clean and functional. However, it was missing some things which I consider essential; a hairdryer, shower gel and enough towels to go around for a start. Since the staff seemed rather busy we didn’t bother them by asking them for towels and things which I guess we could have done. Needless to say the staff were all polite and helpful whenever we did require assistance.

Eating in the lounge area

Considering it was freshers week at the university that week the hotel was nice and quiet and really well located close to The Grafton Centre part of town and with parking underneath which is a massive bonus in Cambridge. We also liked the views over the allotments which were lovely considering we were in the middle of the town.

The cooked breakfast was very nice, although the husband commented that he would have liked to have seen a bit more choice as there were no hash browns or mushrooms. I like to have porridge and this wasn’t an option either which was a shame.

Overall the hotel was great and we would stay there again, its given me a new perspective on staying at Travelodge and we have booked one for our trip to Sheffield later this year. If you are looking for a great budget option for a stay with the family then Travelodge certainly provide the ideal solution.

Why Cultural and Natural Spaces Should be Free

When I did my museum training there were several debates on whether or not museums should be free. One of the arguments was that if you charged your visitors you and your staff would somehow feel obliged in a way, to up your game and produce a much better visitor experience. In 2001 the government introduced free entry to the National Museums and over the next few years visitor numbers increased dramatically whilst numbers in charging museums were impacted.

Tate Modern: Free

One of the things I have noticed now I have children is how influenced I am by whether or not an attraction charges. If it charges I’m far less likely to take the kids (we cant afford it). I am happy to pay for a special temporary exhibition if its on a topic which we are particularly interested in though, such as Pompeii at The British Museum, especially as you get the added benefit of the rest of the museum to go around.

There are a few exceptions to this and I did not pay to see the Magna Carta  at our local Cathedral as its arguably one of the most important objects in the UK collections because I feel very strongly that since it enshrines our principles of legality in the UK everyone should have the chance to see it (or one of its copies) for free. Which, incidently you can do at the British Library or here on line.

I think there should be consideration of audience when charging for an activity or temporary exhibition. I must admit I feel really annoyed that I was charged for a one year old to attend a teddy bears picnic at one of our local museums because, frankly at one year of age you are more of a hindrance than someone enjoying an activity and I don’t think you can really participate or know whats going on. It made attendance at the event cost our family £12, prohibitive for many and actually what it would have cost for us to spend an entire day enjoying the delights of the South Kensington Museums. I am also not going to recommend the event to anyone with a small child. Counter productive.

RSPB Titchwell: Free

Above all as a museum professional and curator I feel really strongly that access to culture should be free for all especially those funded by the public through taxes. I understand that these places need to make money to keep running, however I would suggest that money spent on admission may actually be spent in the shop anyway.

If money isn’t spent by a visitor then surely the very fact of providing something for people to enhance their lives and making a difference could be offset in other ways. One could argue that whilst someone is visiting a museum or nature reserve they aren’t getting depressed, committing a crime and they are actually educating themselves. Culture enhances peoples lives in so many ways.

At the moment we are in a period of really dark times for the museum and gallery sector with news of the closure of more and more each week. Many really large institutions are under threat and the number of professionals working in the sector is falling dramatically. I know more unemployed museum curators than I do employed. With the cut in local government grants councils are looking to cut funding from all no essential/ statutory services and so museums get the chop first, that’s usually after they start charging admission. Some councils are even looking to sell collections to raise money. This is a grave error.

When looking for activities which don’t involve sticking your child in front of the television museums are a great place to begin. If you need to pay to take your child in then you are less likely to go. If you need to spend nearly fifty quid to take your family to an attraction you want good value for money and a whole day out. Its a risk if your child has a meltdown and you can end up putting them off the place for life as you drag them around moaning all day to get your value for money. If its free, you can cut your losses and go another day, whats more if an attraction is free you can just pop in to look at one thing. Something we often do with the British Museum and Tate Modern, both places where my children feel happy and confident.

Of course, the thing which both these places have are wonderful collections, but so do lots of smaller local museums. What these smaller places often lack is good programming to attract people in, they suffer outdated twenty year old displays and nothing else to offer. So its a bit of a double whammy, I do agree that museums do also need to offer something to entice you in even if they are free. I’d argue that this offer doesn’t have to be huge or particularly costly.

There are lots of ways for cultural and natural attractions to raise money, corporate events, fundraisers and so forth. Yes, do have a donation box, but not a donation at a turnstile entry gate. Have an active friends organisation which appeals to young people as well as pensioners, this would raise some funds. But above all, local councils should view funding for free entry as important.

The key thing here is that this heritage belongs to everyone, to charge to view it is akin to the privatisation of education and culture in my opinion. It makes our history inaccessible to many (myself included). For a lot of people when you have a choice between food or a museum visit its a no brainer. This is a real shame in the twenty first century and if children are ignorant of their history, their culture and their natural environment the world is not going to be a very palatable place in the future.

British Museum: Free

Like local libraries, if people don’t use local museums they wont exist. Libraries are fortunate, they are always free. Do make sure you use your local museum if its free, show your support. If only for five minutes (don’t forget many do have toilets- rather handy if you have kids especially as loads of public toilets have shut!)

If you are concerned about your local museum you could apply for it to become a Community Asset, which obviously it is anyway, under the Communities Bill. And next time I see someone Tweet about how bored they are with the kids at home I shall suggest a visit to a free local museum or nature reserve!

Nudity in art…

One of the things I have always done with my children is to take them to lots of art galleries and museums and look at pictures and objects. I do this without any prejudice and let them draw from their own experiences what or how they interpret what they are seeing. I haven’t even given a second thought if they find themselves in front of a nude study, whether photography, paint or pen. Its all part of life’s rich tapestry right? In fact, i’d say that I was probably more happy with them scrutinising nudes in the Titians at the National Gallery than some of the more graphic depictions of Jesus on the cross or in paintings such as the Death of Marat which I think are much more challenging for young minds to understand.

As a result I found it very amusing to read this article which basically talks about a mother who was very disturbed when she went along to a museum to find an exhibition of scrimshaw depicting naked ladies. She feels that its porn and shouldn’t be on display. As a museum curator I’d argue that its a brilliant thing to put on display and something which not only is an unusual art form, but also that its very typical of its time and as such, has a lot to offer if properly interpreted. Maritime art is often overlooked and yet is so important culturally.

This got me thinking though, where should you draw the line? I quite happily take my kids along to the National Portrait Gallery. I’m sure they have probably seen images which are tantamount to porn there. Is this more acceptable than in the home setting? What makes it more acceptable? My husband doesn’t buy lads magazines or even ones like SFX anymore (or at least bring them home) purely because of the cover images which he feels inappropriate. I don’t really have any problem though as I don’t think the kids would really even notice. However, when I flick through some of my women’s magazines there are often what might be classed as pornographic images used in advertising. I’ll happily sit and chat about the contents of these magazines with my daughter, she likes choosing shoes for when she is older. She doesn’t notice much else, such a girl! That’s the thing, I don’t think children interpret these images in the same way that adults do.

At the end of the day, I personally don’t have a problem with depictions of the naked body in art. It’s not something that has ever crossed my mind as being akin to porn actually (call me naive). It did make me laugh to read how the National Gallery was blighted with dirty old men last summer Even then I think that perhaps that is the real worry about some of these exhibitions and displays; the potential for paedos and weirdos visiting rather than the art itself.

I’d love to know what you think about this.